New Normal

It was Thursday, September 22. I was coming back from a lunch break with my youngest brother (who recently joined me and Emmanuel in working at Nickelodeon). We were talking about recent events, and as we turned down the street toward the studio, I told him I was afraid this was our new "normal" for the foreseeable future. The previous day, September 21, had marked the one year anniversary of my aunt's passing.

The following day, September 23, I and my four brothers would be reprising our roles as pallbearers, as we laid our mother to rest.

Two very rough days, one behind us and one before us, and they were separated only by what was about to become a third very rough day - September 22.

After lunch, I put in a few more hours at the Cintiq, and then headed home. I was maybe 10 miles from my house when my iPhone buzzed. The phone was face up on the passenger seat, and upon glancing over, I could see that it was a message from my brother, Theo.  The following events happened almost simultaneously, but somehow, in slow motion.

• I recalled that Theo had taken my dad to the doctor for a routine check-up.

• A sinking feeling hit my stomach.

• The message was too long to read while driving, but my brain realized that it had picked out one word at that first glance.

"Cancer."

Instantly, my heart started to race and I felt like I couldn't see straight. I remember muttering the words, “God have mercy” aloud over and over as I tried to keep control of my car.  I'm still not totally sure how I made it home without having a breakdown.

My aunt’s passing was very hard. We’re a very close family, and we still haven’t quite recovered from that, so getting hit with the death of our mom a year later was a very difficult blow.  But getting this news about my dad (one day before my mother’s funeral, no less), was devastating on an entirely new level. My parents separated when we were young, and my dad has been our everything. He raised all of us – five wild and crazy boys – on his own. That means that, while working full-time as a teacher and professor (bio-chemistry), he still found a way to pack five lunches every morning. He took five boys shopping for clothes, and kept five pairs of shoes on five pairs of rapidly-growing feet. He bought groceries for five boys and cooked dinner and set the table every night.  He gathered us together for prayer before bed. He did dishes and laundry and cleaned the house and paid the bills and made sure we had not only everything we needed, but also as much of what we wanted as he could afford.  Every Sunday after church, he’d drive us to the comic book store. We’d go inside while he waited in the car for an hour or more, giving us as much time as we wanted to browse the shop. One by one, we’d come out and approach the car, and we never had to say a word. “Did you find something you want?” he’d ask, cash already in his hand. Himself a lover of books with an enormous library in our house, he’d bring me along on Saturday morning trips to Crown Books, where he bought me my first Ninja Turtles graphic novel and started me down the path to my current career. He is the perfect dad. I’d be lucky to be half the man he is. Truth.

Last week, we met with doctors. There we were, gathered together in that room... my dad, sitting on the bench in his hospital gown with the usual smile on his face, surrounded by his five boys, now five grown men, but inside feeling like five small, helpless children.

I won't get into the details, except to say that it's grim. And yet, dad is in good spirits. Great spirits. He says when the Lord calls him home, he'll go home. He's brave and full of cheer.  I've never known a more courageous man. I don't know why I'm the complete opposite, afraid of everything. Especially this. This has been my worst fear since I was a kid. But I adhere to what he taught me, and keep faith in God, every step of the way.

I went back and forth a lot on making any sort of public posting about any of this (I wrote this almost two weeks ago, and only now finally brought myself to share it). I’ve found that the older I get, and the more social our tech-savvy society becomes, the more private I want to be. I didn’t tweet or blog anything about my aunt or my mom, and I wasn’t sure about publicizing any of this, either. But I finally came to the conclusion that, among other things, I need to record it somewhere. And my dad is too awesome to keep to myself.

So that's where we're at. It's been a tough year, and September has proven itself to be an especially dark month for us. There was, however, one little ray of light… September 29th marked one year from the day I came home and my wife changed my world with the greatest news. This week, our little Sophia is already 5 months old. Having my dad live to see her was a constant prayer of mine, and the smile she brings to his face does immeasurable good to all of us as we adjust to this new normal. I thank God for that.